Information minister downplays Jamaica’s slip in press freedom index

MINISTER with responsibility for information Robert Morgan has reiterated the declared commitment to press freedom by the Andrew Holness Administration amid jitters locally after Jamaica slipped 20 places on the 2023 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The 2023 index was released on Wednesday, which was celebrated as World Press Freedom Day.

This is the lowest ever ranking for Jamaica in the index which has been compiled by RSF for more than 20 years.

But Morgan argued that the decline does not reflect poorly on Jamaica.

“I think the country should be satisfied that of all the 180 countries ranked, Jamaica is still in the top 25 per cent,” Morgan told the Jamaica Observer following the post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday.

Earlier Morgan had argued that the fact that journalists could attend a weekly post-Cabinet media briefing and ask questions unrestricted was a testament to the Administration’s commitment to press freedom.

“We as a Government in a free and democratic society support all journalists around the world who continue to fight to bring information to the public. Coming from a newsroom, I recognise the importance of information dissemination and the importance of a free and fair media to democracy,” added Morgan.

In 2021 Jamaica was ranked seventh out of the 180 countries on the RSF index, before slipping to 12th in 2022 and the big fall to 32nd this year.

But Morgan pointed to RSF’s latest report in which it said: “In the past one to two decades, freedom of the press has continued to improve in Jamaica, and the right to information is widely respected. The country thus continues to rank among the safest in the world for journalists.

“The Jamaican free press often openly criticises officials, and journalists have occasionally reported intimidation while doing their work, particularly ahead of an election”.

According to Morgan, the Jamaican Government cannot dictate to the international organisations as to how they do their assessments but, “what we can do is continue to hold our heads down, do the work and ensure that we run a good government which recognises the importance of the press for our democracy”.

In its hint as to what could have led to Jamaica’s decline, RSF said: “Physical attacks are rare, but they do happen. A videographer for Television Jamaica and a reporter for the Jamaica Gleaner were attacked in November 2022 while covering a teachers’ protest in St Catherine‚Ķ when a man interrupted their interview and damaged their equipment.

“Apart from this incident, no acts of violence against journalists had been recorded in the past ten years. Still, reporters must measure the threat posed to them by the country’s high crime rate when they are investigating a sensitive subject.”